What's lucky: With no tropical storms, shallow-water diving is better than I can remember in August. Artificial reefs in 30 to 50 feet have clear blue water on top and from 15 to 25 feet of greener visibility on the bottom. Thursday on the Madeira Beach and South County reefs, we could see the dark shapes of reef material from the surface, which made free diving more fun than blind diving and searching for structure at the bottom.
What was seen: Near the surface, Spanish mackerel outnumbered barracuda and spadefish. On the bottom, big mangrove snapper were everywhere, followed by small gags and monster snook. Few sheepshead and one cobia made a pass. No goliath grouper, which have moved to cooler waters, and no red snapper, which close early on Aug. 15.
Spear tips: It's all about accuracy of the shot — in from above and behind the fish at the lateral line behind the eye, out through the jaw or snout. A perfect shot instantly stones a fish, like my six-pound mangrove snapper Thursday. Slightly off shots produce struggles but usually secure the fish because the target area is tough. Missing by an inch often grazes a fish and it tears off, but many survive. We frequently see healed and smart fish, which never let us get the drop on them. Don't take broadside and front-angle shots. These soft targets often don't secure a fish but do hit the gut area, causing a mortal wound.
Chad Carney teaches diving and spearfishing in the Tampa Bay area. Visit his Web site at floridaskindiver.com or call (727) 423-7775.